Delhi continues to fight for life as Covid-19 rages on

Families of deceased blame Centre & state government

Politics

May 3, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Delhi continues to fight for life as Covid-19 rages on

Jitinder Singh Shunty, head of Shaheed Bhagat Singh Sewa Dal, consoles a bereaved relative at Seemapuri crematorium (MIG Photos/Varsha Singh)

The seemingly unstoppable Covid-19 surge in New Delhi that has already caused thousands of fatalities in the national capital, mainly due to severe shortage of oxygen and lack of beds in hospitals has led to widespread anger in next of kin who blame the government for dropping the ball, instead of preparing for unavoidable second wave.

“I lost my maternal aunt today, who was staying with my mother for the past 40 years. We lost her only because we could not get a single bed for her in an Intensive Care Unit. I stay in Mumbai but when I got to know that she is unwell, I flew here to take care of her. We tried to call everyone for help, but sadly we could not get any bed. Sometimes I think that it’s Delhi, the capital of India, and here people will not die like this, but the hospital where I admitted my aunt, Holy Family Hospital on Mathura Road, looked like a railway station area where patients come and go and the dead bodies being moved out incessantly in order to prepare the bed for the next patient,” an emotionally-exhausted Kanwalpreet Kaur tells Media India Group at the Lodhi Road crematorium in central Delhi where she has come with her family for the last rites of her aunt.

Relatives of a deceased carry firewood to expedite the funeral (MIG Photos/Aman Kanojiya)

Kaur says she was shocked by the chaos prevailing in New Delhi where people have been dying in dozens on the streets due to lack of oxygen or hospital beds since the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic gripped the city in early March. “I had never imagined this could happen to us as my father was an officer with the Indian Army and we have been used to well-organised medical care. But now, even the Army people told us that we should not go to their hospitals as the situation is even worse. There are thousands of patients and there is a shortage of staff and there is no proper care for patients. So, we didn’t go to the Army hospital. After much pleading we somehow got her admitted in the Holy Family Hospital. But there also they just gave her oxygen. There was no medicine, no treatment of any kind. When I requested that she be given a saline drip as she had not had any food, they bluntly told us to take her somewhere else. They said that here we do only this and only provide first aid. If you are not okay, then please take the patient from here. But since we had nowhere to go I just kept quiet,” she adds.

Kaur does not mince words in saying who is to blame for the chaos in Delhi. “The government was not prepared at all. There is no oxygen, and hospitals have run out of beds. After the first wave was over, the hospitals were really relaxed. They converted the Covid floors for normal patients and now when the second wave came they could not respond fast enough and lost a lot of time. If there are ICU beds available then there is no bed, somewhere there were no ventilators, I am ashamed, I feel so helpless,” she says.

She adds that the response of the Maharashtra government was much better in dealing with the crisis. “Mumbai is way more organised than Delhi. I have been staying in Mumbai for the past 35 years and my mother lives in Delhi so I can compare very well. Mumbai is very well organised and they take action very fast. But over here, there is bribery and robbery. My aunt’s gold bangle was stolen at the hospital. When I had gone to see her in the morning  I saw it on her arm, but later in the evening it had disappeared. I didn’t want to fight because my patient was there. But what ethics do people have, what has happened to them, I don’t understand,” she says.

Standing right next to the pyre where Kanwalpreet Kaur and her family stands, is another family that has come to organise the funeral of their loved one. Gursharan Lamba, a Delhi-based businessman, had come to cremate his brother-in-law who had also succumbed to Covid-19, but unlike Kaur, Lamba had no complaints against the hospital or the treatment provided to his relative.

“My brother in law passed away this morning at 4 am after fighting with Covid-19 for the past 21 days. For two weeks, he was in the DRDO hospital. We were lucky to have medical treatment going on for him, there was no lack of oxygen there, there was no dearth of medicine. He was pulling along. We were hoping that he will pull out but suddenly things deteriorated in the past two days. And today he passed away,” says Lamba.

But Lamba is also quick to admit that his brother-in-law was one of the very few fortunate persons who could get proper medical care. “I think we were the fortunate ones to get such facilities. We happened to go to DRDO one hour after it was opened and within an hour the admissions were closed. We were very lucky to be in a hospital with him,” he adds.

Family members say that the government failed miserable in tackling the second wave (MIG Photos/Aman Kanojiya)

Lamba, too, knows where the blame for the humanitarian catastrophe inflicted upon Delhi lies. “I blame primarily the central government and the state government to some extent. Both the governments failed us. As citizens we should not be running for hospitals or oxygen, that was the government’s job to provide. But the governments have failed miserably. It has been a total disaster for the general public. They were not prepared. When there is pandemic and the government had early intelligence, they should have known that it is going to explode. No steps were taken anywhere in the country to control this. In fact, the DRDO hospital was dismantled after the first wave. They set it up again in a hurry.  Somehow, the government was lost on what was coming up. They started opening up every sector, so people naturally thought the pandemic has gone. If the government and the top leadership had given an indication that things are not so hunky-dory, people would have taken care. When you have the Kumbh Mela, you have elections going on, you organise large rallies, people think that it’s okay to go out. People started partying, the markets were flooded with people, so somehow the indication that was coming was not there for the general public. And that has caused this mayhem,” says Lamba.

About 20 km from Lodhi Road crematorium, at East Delhi’s Seemapuri cremation grounds, two brothers from another bereaved family are enraged by the pain and suffering that their mother had to undergo due to the lackadaisical attitude of the entire administration.

Vikash Kumar, a resident of Loni, who lost his mother says that there is no help provided by the hospitals or the government. “The customer care number given by Delhi’s chief minister is not responsive. They say they will reply but nobody calls back. We called all the helpline numbers but nobody responded. We also called 100, they too say that we will see. After that they also didn’t respond. This is the situation,” Kumar says. He adds that the patients admitted in the GTB Hospital at Dilshad Garden were not provided any medical care as there was no staff to look after the patients, who were not even fed properly.

Seemapuri crematorium has been seeing over 100 funerals per day in the second wave (MIG Photos/Aman Kanojiya)

At Seemapuri crematorium, Jitinder Singh Shunty is helping the Kumar brothers with the funeral of their mother. Shunty is the head of Shaheed Bhagat Singh Sewa Dal, an NGO that has been helping families with the cremations of their loved ones and has been running the crematorium almost single-handedly for over 20 years. Shunty says he has never ever seen this flood of bodies that have been arriving at the cremation grounds since early April. He says that in the first wave, his organisation organised about 20 funerals every day, but since April 1, 2021, the number has crossed 100 per day and in the past two weeks, over 1500 cremations have been organised.

“If you look at the people of Delhi, they are completely shaken up. They have to beg to breathe. The country will never forget what has happened during Covid-19. The families that lost their near and dear ones will never forget what happened. Why was the government not prepared? Why did they shut the quarantine centres? If there was second wave coming in other countries, why did the government think that it will not happen in India? If you say you were prepared, then why didn’t you arrange for the beds in hospitals, ventilators, oxygen, ambulances or mortuaries. Within Delhi only 70-80 pc of hospitals are such, that if a patient dies at night they say take the body home because they don’t have a mortuary. Even the High Court is asking that they made such multispecialty hospitals all over but why didn’t they open any oxygen plant? It is not very costly, just INR 20 million. What would you call this? Won’t you call this carelessness?” asks Shunty, while directing his band of volunteers to take care of the rush of bodies that keep arriving every few minutes at the crematorium.

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